WHEN members of Congregation Nevei Kodesh heard that about 30 immigrants had been forced to work up to 70 hours a week in a Boulder restaurant, without overtime pay and with exhorbitant visa fees deducted from their checks, they were outraged.
We were just shocked, said Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, the Boulder Renewal congregations spiritual leader. We were just appalled.
Soon after, about 20 congregants and Rabbi Firestone, formed The Moses Project, a faith-based project which examines the issue of modern day slavery and hopes to effect change.
Since then approximately 10 people from the First Congregational Church of Boulder have also joined the effort.
The Moses Project hosted its first annual freedom seder this week to raise awareness about human trafficking around the world and in Colorado. The event was a collaboration between Nevei Kodesh and the First Congregational Church of Boulder.
The purpose of the symbolic seder was to link the exodus story with the struggle against modern day slavery, Rabbi Firestone said.
Speakers included Pam Harvey, Denvers representative for Transitions Global, an international anti-human trafficking organization; Beth Klein, a local trial and human rights attorney who wrote the Colorado 2010 anti-human trafficking laws and is on the national steering committee of Demand Abolition Coalition; and Brad Riley, president and founder of iEmpathize.com.
At press time it was unknown how many people attended.
The idea is to teach people how to get involved and also how to recognize slavery in their own communities, Rabbi Firestone said.
We have an imperative to be aware of oppression and to be aware of who has been marginalized in our society. This is our imperative as Jews and as Christians.
ITS estimated that worldwide there are 27 million slaves, more than at any other time in history. The anti-slavery effort is being supported by several prominent Jews, including Colorado State Senate President Brandon Shaffer, who recently introduced to the Colorado legislature anti-trafficking legislation, to try to reduce the demand for prostitution.
Senate Bill 11-085 Prostitution Offender Program Courts recently was approved by the Colorado Senate and now moves to the House. It is scheduled to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee on April 21.
Demand for prostitution is directly related to the human trafficking issue, Shaffer said. The less demand, the less trafficking problems.
The legislation requires those accused of soliciting prostitutes to be educated on the secondary and tertiary effects of their behavior, he said. The educational program would include teaching that the fact that women were forced into the profession as young girls, sometimes as young as 10.
Shaffer said he hoped that addressing the demand side would put the prostitution rings out of business and that it would be more effective than placing offenders in jail.
Brad Riley said the average age for a girl to enter prostitution is 12 to 14. In Colorado, as well as other states, prostitution shows up at truck stops, military bases and along highways, he said.
Even when we see someone at [age] 22, the backstory is that there is a long history of exploitation going on here, Riley said.
Anytime someone is being coerced, that is the modern day definition of slavery. Those are the new and invisible chains.
Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News